Playwrights Who Matter

JT Rogers 

JT Rogers 

JT’s writing came to my attention by way of a simple unsolicited submission from his agent – John Buzzetti – who sent me a copy of White People. The writing immediately appealed to me: politically-charged, muscular, straightforward and ruthlessly honest. In spite of the potentially constraining structure of the play: three separate monologues using direct-address which interconnect thematically but almost never dramatically, the play and its characters fly off the page, begging to be staged. The woman is pure trailer trash and, at the same time achieves a quasi-tragic stature as a victim-come-to-collect from her victimizers. The men – one an unredeemed racist, the other an East Coast liberal college professor – are equally-memorable creations: tragically flawed, conflicted, contradictory.

In Madagascar, oblique intimations of incest and familial betrayal coexist with elegant talk of Roman antiquity and travel, all couched in a dense, complex, and uncannily theatrical language. In The Overwelming, the theme of the Holocaust of an African nation is taken on unflinchingly, along with an insightful examination of our American culpability and the crass and clueless attitude about the whole tragic debacle of the contemporary third world that permeates our think tanks and cocktail parties.

JT has the courage to write about the unpalatable. His courage pays off in the long run, as witness his Madagascar, which the coveted Osborne Prize from the American Theatre Critics Association, and his The Overwhelming, picked up for a production and a tour of Great Britain by the National Theatre, no less.

Commissions have been pouring in from major institutional theatres. JT’s day is here, finally. With an infant son and a young wife employed in the field of arts education, this could not happen to a more deserving, more valiant man of the theatre.

 John Strand

 John Strand

John and I met, as I recall, in Washington, D.C. in 1998, where I was visiting Woolly Mammoth, Studio, Signature, and Arena Stage. At Arena they were doing John’s LOVERS AND EXECUTIONERS. There was a post-play discussion and John was there. I met him and told him how much I had enjoyed the play and the production, and we promised to stay in touch.

Four years later we produced his TOM WALKER, a ‘picaresque’ comedy about racism and the lust for money in Colonial America. In 2005, we produced THE DIARIES. The first season following my retirement from New Theatre opened with John’s LINCOLNESQUE, one of the plays I had short-listed for the season following my departure.

John is an elegant writer: literate, urbane, deeply-steeped in the classics. He is also a bold, down-to-earth, politically-engaged dramatist. This yin and yang of John’s provide a wonderful edge to his writing. Allusions to the Bible and to classical literature live side-by-side with scatological and locker room humor in Tom Walker. The most noble utterances in Lincoln’s writings and speeches are humorously deflated by contemporary-D.C. double-talk in Lincolnesque.

In The Diaries, the real-life drama of German Wehrmacht Officer Ernst Alsanger inspires a fascinating yarn about the sins of the forefathers visiting their progeny in an American Academia setting. A recurring ‘leitmotif’ in John’s writing, the past knocks at the doors of the present to reshape and remake lives, sometimes with tragic consequences.
John is scholarly, quite comfortable in both the American regional theatre and the French-speaking theatre world in which he spent years while living in Paris. He knows theatre intimately and knows all about the hurdles of mounting a play. He seems to be enjoying a very nice life and career, married to his wife Amanda, an actress, surrounded by his four kids, having his work produced at the Arena, the Shakespeare Theatre, the Signature Theatre, the Old Globe, and South Coast Rep. A playwright with a rich life, producing ever richer work. His work enriched my working years at New Theatre and I am the richer for having him as a friend.

Nilo Cruz 

Nilo Cruz

Nilo and I met in 1986. He was then a drama student at Miami Dade College. In 1997 I  went to see his A Park in Our House at Florida Stage. We then began the dialogue that eventually lead to the world premiere of Hortensia and the Museum of Dreams, as the second play of our season 01-02, with an opening set for Friday September 14, 2001.

On Tuesday of that week we awoke to the horror of 9-11. We were scheduled for the first of two dress rehearsals that night, which we cancelled. On Friday September 14, we opened on schedule. Nilo was still in New York, unable to get a flight out. Somehow the entire experience bonded Nilo and New Theatre in a very visceral way.

The following year we applied to Theatre Communications Group and to the National Endowment for the Arts for grants in support of a residency for Nilo at New Theatre and for an eventual production of the commissioned play. Ybor City became Anna in the Tropics, and Anna became the winner of the American Theatre Critics Association Best New American Play award, which Nilo went to pick up in Louisville in 2003, with me accompanying him. After the award presentation, we went off to find a place to get a hamburger and a beer, in the middle of a fierce rainstorm. We said goodnight and flew back, Nilo to NYC, and I to Miami.
I was sitting in the office on a Monday, when he telephones began to go ballistic. I did not want to pick up, as Monday was our official day-off and I was trying to catch up on some emails. My curiosity got the best of me and I answered a call from Michael Kuchawara of UP News Service, asking for a comment from me on Nilo receiving the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

Beauty of the Father premiered in 2004 at New Theatre. Working with Nilo was always a rare pleasure, with its mix of intensity, passion, and give and take. The relationship can be summed up as an artistic marriage that enriched New Theatre beyond measure, bringing it national recognition. Nilo remains a passionate poet of the stage, fully dedicated to his craft. He also remains our friend.

Michael McKeever 

Michael McKeever 

37 PostcardsSexy & MiggsThat Sound You HearWait and SeeA Town Like Irving…We did five of Michael’s plays over ten seasons. As of the writing of this, yet another one is slated to close the season 2006-2007 at New Theatre.

By chance, rather than by design or artistic planning, I directed only one of Michael’s plays – an early one-act version of Wait and See. But he always fared excellently as a playwright. He also fared very well when he acted in four of his five plays, as well as in those of others. Then, there is Michael the stage designer: imaginative, tasteful, and whimsical. He made us feel special by repeatedly reminding us that he only designed for New Theatre.

As the years have passed and Michael enters his gentler years, the undiminished and youthful fire on the belly have coupled with a gravity acquired through life experience and a craftsmanship obtained through sheer hard work. They all shine through in his writing.

Ever unpredictable, Michael confounds his critics and detractors. He is facile the way Noel Coward was facile – which is really an illusion of being facile. I know all too well how Michael labors over the right turn of phrase to make it all seem easy. Behind all that there is grit and hard work. And, of course, a huge talent…Michael stretches himself. The writer of That Sound You Hear was a young man in search of his own unique voice. By the time we encounter the writer of A Town Like Irving, Michael has secured that voice’s ownership. Compare the O’Neill of the Sea Plays with the O’Neill of Moon for the Misbegotten. Same playwright… Many years in-between… I look forward to Michael’s next many years of writing.

Michael is a charmer. Michael’s mix of charm and talent are getting his plays produced all over the map, with several European productions under his belt. It also helps that he writes plays that are actor-friendly, plays that show him to be aware of current issues, plays that are humorous and plays that are heartbreaking, plays that deal with historical subjects, plays that tell stories that involve an audience: all sorts of plays that come from a bright man with a huge heart and a bottomless imagination.

 Mario Diament

Mario Diament

In 1998, Mario proposed to me to have New Theatre do a play of his titled The Story of Ruth. The theme and a scenario hooked me at once. The story, based on his own family, several members of which never survived the Holocaust, concerns the story of an old woman who wanders into an attic in search of an object she has misplaced. In the process of looking for whatever it is she has lost, she encounters memory after memory from her past in the persons of former lovers, long-dead relatives, herself as child, young woman, and adult woman. It was a bold and irresistible concept and it caught my interest at once. We closed the season 1999-2000 with Mario’s newly-titled The Book of Ruth. It was the largest cast we had ever employed to date at New Theatre, with ten actors playing over 20 roles on a set that depicted a cramped attic full of old furniture. It was a critical and audience success. Most importantly, it cemented an artistic mutual-trust between Mario and us that lasts to this day. Not to mention a great friendship.

Over the next six years Mario gave us the gift of three more great plays. The four plays of Mario’s we did at New Theatre have enjoyed a healthy life after their Florida premieres. Smithereens, Blind Date, The Book of Ruth, Lost Tango all have received European and Argentine productions. He is quite prolific, and more plays will be coming out of his fertile imagination.

Mario’s writing is a rich and rare amalgam with a very strong dose of Jewish irony, gallows humor, and old-world philosophy in a happy mix with a sassy Argentine sensibility born not far from the bordellos where the tango was born. But all that fuses into a style that changes from play to play according to the dramatic requirements at hand. Mario is a true citizen of the world, a pragmatist, a disillusioned idealist with a deep love for theatre, life, and the arts.

I never have had a better time directing new plays than with his plays. Nor have I had better conversations with any other theatre person. I am so lucky to have him for a friend and to have done his work.

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